Friday, April 25, 2008

quick note on the calvin fest

Byron of Hearts and Minds Bookstore threw down the gauntlet for me to report on The Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, and I'M NOT READY-- mostly because I'm nursing a terrible sore throat and I am overdue for a writing deadline, and it's spring break so there is noooooo time alone... But, I quickly copied a fast report about my experience-- a report written for my fellow MFA students.

Two threads intertwine in my evaluation of the Calvin Festival: one is simply being a part of the world of writers and the world of writers with spiritual leanings. I saw a number of old friends, and met people who know my childhood landscapes. That would be good enough, but the MFA group is even better. Sitting around at one a.m. listening to one another read our own writings and our favorite pieces of poetry, after we are "all caught up" with one another-- this is my idea of paradise.

The other thread is the scheduled stuff: the program is impressive! I saw a wrenching play called The Women of Lockerbie, and that alone could've required a week of recovery.

Brian Doyle embodies joy, and he's contagious and irreverent while honoring God.

Haven Kimmel is a favorite of mine (ask me sometime, but I've read her entire catalog and I can't wait to open the next), and she is STRANGE, hilarious, and not at all like any other writer-of-faith. Her outsider-ness makes her all the more intriguing. I got to meet her briefly, and spent more time with her mom and her mom's friends.

Meeting Phyllis Tickle was a delight.

I deeply enjoyed Jeffrey Overstreet's presentation Through a Screen Darkly, about movies and meaning-- I hadn't realized the book is more memoir than didactic, and now I need to read it. He sang the closing song of The Muppet Movie, which made me cry-- now how many people can DO that?

And back to that first thread, I don't know how I ended up dining at the corner of the table with poets Paul Mariani and Scott Cairns, and I immediately thought of twenty people who would do anything to trade places with me. It was a charmed evening.

If I start offering thanks and gushing gratitude, this will be the longest and mushiest post ever. I love being a student. I love studying writing. I love and respect my classmates and mentors.

So. I felt like I belong in this "society of writers," which is startling and good. I brought home a short but important stack of signed books. And I'm recovering from all this enthusiasm, still. "Not sleeping ever" netted me an evil sore throat and cold, but I say it was worth it.

Now I need to get back to writing The Greatest Essay Ever, and getting over this cold. Peace to you Byron, and thanks for the nudge.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

sunday is for soup

It’s been a cool day, gray and on the edge of rain. Brendan asked me to open the bay window so I can hear him count how many times he can bounce a birdie on his badminton racket. (Fourteen is the record.) I set up my laptop in the window seat, happy to surround myself in light, no matter how filtered. A pot of soup bubbles on the stove, chicken stock with onions, lots of carrots and Yukon gold potatoes. My children don’t like chicken in their chicken soup, which causes me a dilemma, since I certainly want chicken in mine, and they need more protein than they think. I wonder how small I can dice chicken… the soup is thickened with red lentils, which have dissolved by now, and perhaps that will be protein enough. I will put large pieces of chicken in the broth and eat the chicken myself, perhaps.

I am revising an essay I’ve revised more times than I can recall. (Hint: it’s about a sailing trip.) All the revisions total, let’s see, 24,000 words (there may be some overlap of several pages). Each reader so far has said “this has the makings of a great essay, but it doesn’t know what it wants to be.” One said, maybe more of this and the other said maybe more of that. I’m sticking with the main premise: the essay doesn’t know yet. I wish it would tell me. The readers’ solutions: 1) you’ll only know it by writing it, and 2) drop your feelings into your heart and write from there. Hmmmm. Am I trying to make the essay too big? Am I leaving it too small? I’m still turning each piece around, asking the essay to please enlighten me. I ask while chopping potatoes and cleaning the sink, while folding towels and putting away blankets.

A bowl of chicken soup later, the vegetables are buttery-soft, just how my children like it, and my daughter quickly says “nice lentils, Mom.” Her favorite. She leaves every visible onion in her bowl as she moves to practice her violin. (She hopes to bribe me into something, I’m sure.) Brendan is in the tub soaking, where he will make up another story in his head. Both are writers, starting forty years younger than I did. Scott is out at a meeting, missing this glorious soup.

The sky opens up here and there, tomorrow’s weather as much a mystery as “what my essay wants to be” when it grows up. I will send it to my advisor tomorrow or the next day, and pack for a writers’ conference.

Earlier this weekend Byron visited, transforming us into tourists and tourguides, exploring our downtown and showing off our scenic drives. We shared plates of fresh clams and chowder at our favorite seafood dive. The whole day was an incredible treat, meandering and leaving all work projects behind for a few hours.

And while I was walking past the Sweet Magnolia CafĂ©, a woman opened the door and said, “Oh there you are. I drove up from Boston. I know you from The Glen Workshop in Santa Fe last summer, and I was hoping I'd run into you.” As I live in a town of 30,000 and I’ve not walked past that cafe in several months, this seems like a good sign I’m in the right place at the right time.

Now the edge of the clouds rolls back and the sky is still blue, though it’s seven p.m. Time to call in the boy, who is birdie-bouncing again. The girl, who is devouring her dessert, asks if she can tuck into her bunk and read. Yes. The boy will eat his dessert, too, and hopefully sleep a little extra before we start the school week, again.

And I will interview my essay again after they go to bed: what are you about, anyway?

Friday, April 11, 2008

another found object: for holly, 1984

I never really looked like this, except maybe this one moment. Thanks to Warren Dillaway and to Lulie at the YCamp, who just asked me for any photos from my college years. (Close enough on the year, I say.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

thursday: reminder of how to be a grad student

Not To Do Today

1 Avoid twiddling with two book annotations. They are good enough! I focused on Everything that Rises Must Converge ( a favorite from Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor) and a deliciously pointed essay on faith and fiction in Mystery and Manners. I moved ALL the Flannery O’Connor books and commentaries from my bedside bookshelf to the living room shelves, to make room for The Next Big Reads. No twiddling. Good enough.

2 Postpone writing a long overdue letter to Dave. After my packet is turned in.

3 Sigh. Put DOWN the laptop for all uses except grad student writing. I’ve CHECKED the magazine message boards (paid work is good) and emailed editors for paychecks, for new story assignments. No one needs me on Facebook, and I like a recent comment by a classmate that Facebook is an endless yearbook signing party. (Yes. And I like it. So?)

4 Stop worrying about my American Airline flight for next week, at least for this next few hours. I’ve done what I can for now. Stop worrying about housing while I’m gone and childcare things yet to figure out.

5 Do not start any big cleaning projects. Throughout my academic life, when writing is due, I clean—but all the projects are WAY TOO BIG. So. Stop now.

To Do Today:

(first: eat breakfast. Now.)

1 Write. Edit essays for my graduate work deadline next week.

2 Nurture my poor hair after the long winter. I will place myself in Amanda the White’s chair, maybe for the last time before her maternity leave

3 Walk the beach.

4 Take kids to the playground after school, again. Show'em mama can pitch. Pack that enormous book of essays.

5 Fold billions of loads of laundry. Houseclean? A little. Small stuff only. May have an honored houseguest, so…

6 Plan for more open time this weekend: cancel the stuff I didn’t want to do anyway!

7 Look at the backyard and garden and see what small measures can be done in the late afternoon. After writing and walking.

Reminder to self: run at joy, chase it as fast as you can go. And then maybe clean the sink, if there’s time. Seventy degrees, maybe today? Thaw meat for the grill.

First, though: breakfast. Maybe a second cup of coffee. Yeah, I think there's time. Joy. First.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

quick grad student diary,

My reading list this quarter:

A Private History of Awe by Scott Russell Sanders
The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative NonFiction
Voice Lessons, Nancy Mairs
The Writing Life, Annie Dillard
Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris
Perhaps something by Wendell Berry to jumpstart my gardening season

Add two annotations of Flannery O’Connor books already read and that leaves two titles more to add to my list! One will need to be fiction and perhaps one will be an “old friend” I can assess in a new way.

In my writing and reading, I’m exploring narration and how writers form a narrator within their story. I’m also exploring possible structures for stories I’m revising. And I’m studying “reflection” in writing, when a writer draws threads from the past together with the present.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

found object

In 1981 I set forth from Indiana on a plane headed west, with only a few bucks and two fat suitcases packed for the whole summer. It was my first extended time outside of my flatland home. I worked for The YMCA of the Rockies Conference Center in Estes Park, Colorado, a workplace I found via a pink mimeographed flyer posted on a college employment bulletin board.

Recently I described my job as The Night Switchboard Operator on an alumni forum for The Y Camp, as we affectionately called it. A museum director wrote me back immediately to say they kept the antique switchboard, which was already an antique when I used it. I sat with this board in front of me and a window view of Mount Chapin, Mount Chiquita and Mount Ypsilon behind me, with the Big Dipper circling the North Star right above the snowy peaks.

This photo does not sum up my summer: I hiked nearly 200 miles, according to my careful log. I played guitar until I was as good as I would ever get (not good enough to stay with it, I'm afraid). My friend Roger and I dodged boyfriend- and girlfriend- wanna-bes by pretending we were dating. Working the night switchboard meant that I never slept and I needed to go back to college to recover. I think I actually attempted to date six men that summer, trying to forget one important breakup. Mostly I recall vistas, wildflowers, and the faces of a dozen friends.

Here is a photo for the scrapbook--